By Josh Garry, Howick Hornets media
The age-old saying fortune favours the brave couldn’t have been more true for Howick’s Premier men’s side on Saturday at Paparoa Park against hearty rivals, the Otahuhu Leopards.
With the Fox Memorial qualification series in its third and final round, both sides needed to win to guarantee them a spot in Auckland Rugby League’s famous first division.
Excitingly for league fans following along, this scenario was no different on the other side of the pool [of 4 clubs], with Otara and Te Atatu also needing a victory to get their respective clubs into the chase for the Fox Premiership.
All four clubs knew a loss would see them relying on mathematics, and so did their nervous fans.
From start to finish, this game was one of the most exciting head-to-head battles that fans of these two clubs will have witnessed and, thanks to the above narrative, it doubled as one of the most nerve-wracking since 2011’s Fox Memorial grand final.
The first half saw the local lads go up by two tries to one, although missed conversions by Howick left the margin at only two points at the break, meaning it was still most certainly anyone’s game.
The second half is where things got so good that words can’t truly describe it, (but I’ll give it a go).
Rugby league is known as a tough sport but, looking a bit closer, you’ll realise it is also a beautiful game, one that completely encapsulates the hearts of those who buy-in – not with hard-earned money, but with passion, loyalty and the kind of spirit you can see and feel.
This was the second forty minutes in a nutshell.
No matter where you focused your attention at Paparoa, it was evident that this result mattered greatly to all in attendance.
The game itself showed every ounce of why it’s known as a tough sport, with bone rattling contact and brave individual defensive efforts shown by both sides throughout.
Otahuhu hit the ground running and crossed for a brace of converted tries, thanks to some very direct running and well-polished back-line plays, taking the score to 18-8 in the visitor’s favour with 30 minutes to play.
Nerves were turning to excitement for the Leopard contingent on the hill and their volume was rising within their passionate fan base. Luckily for the local supporters the volume was also lifting amongst their team, and belief remained strong.
Through sheer hard work, the next 20 minutes would see the Hornets fight back with two tries of their own and bring the score to a crowd-numbing 18 points apiece, with 10 to go.
This is where the beauty began to show. Normally the crowd would be full noise at this point, but given the gravity of the situation mixed with the mutual respect both clubs have for one another, the silence seemed louder than the cheering at times, with both sets of fans respecting that the result had the potential to be very sombre for one club or another in a few short moments.
Some opposing fans could be seen shaking hands early as if to say congratulations on an epic first 70 minutes and best of luck for the final ten – simply beautiful.
To the visiting club’s delight and relief, it would be their side that would win the ensuing arm wrestle, crossing the line out wide in the dying minutes and once again slotting their conversion kick to make it 4 from 4 on a blustery day.
This would ultimately prove the difference between the two sides at the final whistle, with Otahuhu finishing victors 24-18.
At this stage Hornet players and fans alike were of the belief that the home side would be spending the year in the second division, yet given the standing ovation the Hornet players received, this outcome seemed to matter less than everyone first thought.
All anybody cared about at that moment was the fact they had just witnessed a game for the ages and could not have asked for more from their lads.
In filtered the other results, out came the calculators, and thanks to the Te Atatu Roosters seemingly saving their very best till last by putting a large score on Otara, it became evident that the Hornets had made it through by a wingspan at the expense of last week’s opponents- the Scorps.
While some may call this luck, the Hornets know this was in fact fortune derived from utter bravery in battle and the learnings garnered from this experience will undoubtedly prove priceless in their hunt for premiership glory in 2023.
Congratulations to our Leopard brothers on a game very well played, thank you to all fans and those behind the scenes that invest your heart and souls into your clubs and help keep this beautiful game of ours thriving.
Cornwall Park and Auckland Rugby League played host to the opening round of the Women’s Premiership on Saturday.
Here the Hornet ladies – affectionately known as The ‘Nets – opened their campaign against newly-formed ‘City’, a side made up from Ponsonby and Point Chevalier combined, the latter of which was a grand finalist in 2022.
Given this, it was never going to take much motivation from the coaching staff to get the team realising they were in for a big first-up test.
It didn’t take long at all for this belief to be solidified, as The ‘Nets found themselves behind 10-0 after only 10 minutes of play.
That was all it took though, with the side largely sticking to their structures, they began finding their rhythm, raising the tempo and, with due respect to City, the Hornets never looked back from here.
Beginning with a four pointer off some great support play from hooker Zayde Sarah-Baldwin, The ‘Nets would go on to cross for four unanswered tries, including a try, an assist, and a conversion in a dominant first half display from left centre Saphire Abraham, going to the break 18-10 ahead.
The second stanza began in a back-and-forth tussle for the initial 15 minutes until The ‘Nets made the most of a couple of penalties in a row and crossed the line again through second rower and player of the match Tafito Lafaele.
While Howick’s relentless, dynamic attack was brought the points, it was their absolute desperation and pride when defending their try line that really counted for the eventual margin.
It would be another 10 minutes of stout defending for the Hornets before they would find themselves in an attacking zone, and they didn’t waste the opportunity with Lafaele crossing in awesome fashion for her second of the half, taking the score to 26-10.
Probably the most pleasing aspect of the victory for coach James Sarah would have been the way the ladies finished the game, keeping their focus until the final siren and scoring two quick-fire, very well-worked team tries in the closing four minutes taking the score to 38-10.
While it is a great start, the squad knows it is only that and will be working hard to ensure that performance is the benchmark for every game to come.
Beginning next Sunday, 1pm, at Paparoa Park against Taniwharau is a game that, over the past two seasons, has proved to always be a fantastic match up.
Fox Memorial qualifier series results
Howick Hornets vs Otahuhu Leopards
Half Time: Howick 8 – Otahuhu 6
Full Time: Howick 18 – Otahuhu 24
Tries: Roydon Gillett (2), Brandon Lee, Clayton Williams.
Conversion(s): Roydon Gillett
Pakuranga Jaguars vs Manukau Magpies
Half Time: Pakuranga 6 – Manukau 28
Full Time: Pakuranga 16 – Manukau 50
Mangere East Hawks 4 – Point Chevalier Pirates 90
Mount Albert Lions 0 – Richmond Rovers 46
Hibiscus Coast Raiders 16 – Bay Roskill Vikings 32
Glenora Bears 20 – Marist Saints 31
Northcote Tigers 20 – Papakura Sea Eagles 28
Otara Scorpions 4 – Te Atatu Roosters 48
Howick Hornets vs City
Half Time: Howick 18 – City 10
Full Time: Howick 38 – City 10
Tries: Zayde Sarah-Baldwin, Lisa Edwards Rua, Saphire Abraham, Leonia Tusani, Tafito Lafaele (2), Cassie Ormsby, Charlotte Davis.
Conversion(s): Saphire Abraham, Charlotte Davis, Shontelle Woodman